With another batch of podcasts in the books and now four years of consistent, monthly episodes, we’d like to once again thank everyone who has listened, subscribed, and given feedback on The COO Roundtable.  We’ve enjoyed having these discussions and hearing your responses to them.  Our interviews to date have included seventy-five operations professionals at sixty-one multi-billion-dollar RIAs across the country, together accounting for over $411.6 billion in client assets under management.  With so many unique topics discussed in the past five episodes, we felt it was the perfect time to recap the top five lessons we’ve learned from our most recent guests.  You can also check out the top lessons from previous episodes here.  Read on for our highlights from episodes forty-one to forty-five!

Ep 41 featuring Lauren Oschman, Tommy Martin, and Brad Quick: How to Consistently Provide Stellar Client Service to the Right Client

In Ep 41, Matt was joined by three guests from Vestia Personal Wealth Advisors. Lauren, Tommy, and Brad all contributed to a great conversation on succession planning, EOS, and KPIs they use to gauge the health of their firm. When broaching the topic of client niche, all three guests discussed how important it was for them to hone in on their select group of clients: doctors. Tommy said “To go really, really deep in the niche, you almost have to burn the ships. Most firms don’t want to burn the ships. A solid 90% of our business is focused on our niche. Anything else that’s outside of that, we make sure that our systems and processes are still designed to fully support it.” Lauren added “…beyond just marketing, is that it’s really helped us design our process, our pricing structure, our service models — because we know exactly who it is that we are trying to serve. We can be crystal clear about exactly what we have to deliver to support that group, and then we can build all of our processes and KPI’s around that.” Knowing their clients’ specific needs, Vestia is able to build new services as Brad explains in their role in negotiating contracts, “We just wanted to start it out by equipping our graduating fellows with information so they could be intelligent and know if they’re getting a good deal or not. That led to a full-blown contract negotiation business where we can sit next to our clients, to our surgeons, to our doctors, and help them negotiate those contracts or just equip them really well to know what’s important in their contract, what is negotiable or what’s not.”

Ep 42 featuring Kristie Clayton and Melissa Bushman: The Role of the “Integrator”

For Episode 42, Matt welcomed Kristie Clayton and Melissa Bushman, two guests who actively use the EOS system in their professional lives to help them lead their respective teams and get everything done in their busy schedules. One fascinating point our guests talked about was the concept and role of the “Integrator.” Kristie stated “Honestly, for me, one of the biggest responsibilities that I have as an integrator is to say, ‘Does that particular vision fit into the big picture right now? Should we capture that and just hold it in a little spot? Are we playing with a vision right now and just testing it out and seeing what you like and don’t like, or are we actually going to take action on this? If we’re going to take action, does it fit into what we’ve said we are going to prioritize for the whole year or for this particular quarter?’ Really being able to break it down and see all of that.” Melissa added, “I think in Excel, I think in buckets, I think in process. I think, ‘How can we structure, what processes do we need, what structures do we need, what people do we need, what resources do we need to make this happen?’ It is a much more strategic view, but then I am able to jump into each of the nitty-gritty areas and thought partner with our leaders or thought partner with our vendors to figure out what actually needs to be done, the how of it and the nitty-gritty pieces behind it. I can straddle between strategic and tactical and figure out what we need in place, and a lot of it is just asking the right questions of the team.”

We highly recommend this episode for anyone interested in EOS and how it’s applicable to RIAs.

Ep 43 featuring Amanda Barrale and Eric Sontag: The Customization vs Scalability Conundrum

In this episode, Matt was joined by two guests who have a great understanding of what it’s like to build RIA Operations at scale. When discussing how each guest customizes and achieves scale at their firms, Amanda shared her point of view by stressing the value of data leading that customization and scalability. She said “We spend a lot of time looking at the data that we have, analyzing that data, and then meeting with advisors to come up with an analysis and an onscreen experience for them based on how they like to receive this information. It’s something that the entire firm could use because we do have a lot of similar clients across books of business. Then they’re able to share this information and present that in a thoughtful way for each individual client utilizing the data sets that we’ve had. Before, we had information stored in so many different places that it was difficult to do this, but we’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of effort being able to come up with standards that have really helped us in this type of presentation for clients.” Eric added, “I think we on the operational side sometimes default to this, ‘All hail consistency!’ type of attitude and that more consistency is always better. Like everything else for me, the devil’s in the details, and consistency can mean very different things to different people. For Wealthspire, the type of consistency I think about is like Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons. If you stay at multiple Ritz properties, you’re not going to get an identical or cookie-cutter experience at each. But you have a very consistent experience in a lot of ways. You know you’re staying at a Ritz because the quality and level of service is pretty consistent. That’s how I think about Wealthspire. Our advisors have different strengths and weaknesses. Some are going to go more in the weeds on investments and are going to want reports with their clients that are going to go more into the weeds on investment detail than others. Some of our advisors are going to excel in terms of the bedside manner they have in terms of working with a client going through a painful divorce while others may be not as much. Should a client have an identical experience working with every advisor at the firm? No, I don’t think so, but at the same time, it should never feel like the client is working with a different firm. For me, that’s really the critical distinction.”

Ep 44 featuring Crystal Creekmore and Gary Bonner: A Dual-Hatted Role

Episode 44 saw Crystal Creekmore joined by our first-ever repeat guest on the podcast, Garry Bonner, who originally appeared in Episode 2, almost 4 years ago.  Both guests provided valuable insight into leveraging portal technology for better client communication, centralizing vs not centralizing operations, and even their views on the dual role of CCO/COO. When this topic arose, both guests had differing but very valid opinions. Crystal said “My primary goal is just to understand everything that’s going on throughout the firm. I want to make sure everyone’s compliant, I want to make sure we’re keeping up with all the new rules and regulations, everyone’s properly trained. That’s first and foremost. Then given my exposure throughout the company over the last 22 years, no matter what I’m working on, I also always have my operations head on saying, ‘Okay, is there any additional operational efficiencies we can take away from whatever the project is at hand? Are there systems and processes that we can improve or enhance? Are there new rules and regulations that we have to adjust our processes too? Do we need additional training on those? Are we keeping our vendors accountable?’ The list goes on and on and on..” Gary countered by saying “We have a lot of people at SWIG, and I think in a smaller organization it is easy to wear multiple hats and to have conversations with people and be able to spend time in both roles. But as an RIA grows, there’s such a burden on compliance to ensure that we stay compliant, making sure the  CCO communicates out to all the office locations. For me, I can’t imagine doing both roles, maintaining the operations side of the firm with cybersecurity and operations and IT and everything else that goes into operations versus what goes into compliance and being able to do that well, just having to split the time, because both roles are equally important. I think working with a good CCO is always best for me as COO to view that as a partnership and then more largely as a leadership team having good heads in all the roles so that we can work together as a team. Again, from my perspective, I think it’s better to have it separated.”

Ep 45 featuring Michael Wagner and Ben Gurley: Navigating the Flexibility Needed in Operations

Ep 45 had two amazing guests, both of whom run relatively young RIAs and have experience as both owners and operations professionals of their firms. When Matt asked how each guest handles that extra responsibility Ben stated, “We want to take advantage of the fact that we are a small and independent firm and not layer in levels of bureaucracy or checking-the-box processes that while they might serve a purpose theoretically, I think we’ve tried to really pare it down to what is the minimum we can do in terms of a formal process and allow for people to do their jobs and do them well without encumbering them with a whole lot of paperwork or extra steps that need to be taken, just for the sake of process. I think flexibility has been a key part of how we’ve tried to design our operations moving forward and trying to maintain as much of that, and also knowing that as we grow, and if we did start to add more advisors, we would have to start to implement more of those structures from the top down. That’s how we’ve handled it, just getting it done, learning as much as we can to evolve, and then keeping flexibility in the system so we can stay nimble and stay on our toes and not bog our people down.” Michael joined in by saying, “I think a lot about when you go from, let’s call it the wirehouse world or what have you, to the independent space, you are suddenly granted with all this freedom and flexibility. You’re the master of your destiny, everything’s modular and plug and play, you can change your vendor relationships and whatnot, but with all of that flexibility comes a lot of risks. Somebody once said design is the art of saying no to things, so to be really intentional, especially with a smaller team, be mindful that we only have so many hours in a day and that bandwidth is not infinite. Sometimes in these conversations, you feel like a wet blanket. Where your colleagues are throwing out a lot of wonderful ideas and you get to be the one who’s like, well, have we thought about A, B, and C, X, Y, and Z? All of a sudden the mood sours and it’s been a challenge to not take stuff like that personally because it’s all just business and this is what we do and it’s all for the betterment of the organization. How do we cope with being able to do whatever we want and at the same time focusing on the things we really need to be doing? I think time and experience has helped me and the team deal with that.”

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